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Volume 7, Issue 3
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September 2016

Independent Consulting TIG Newsletter

CHAIR'S CORNER

Ups and downs
by Matt Feldmann, IC TIG Chair

What a crazy summer. Do you ever feel like your business opportunities rise and fall like Apple shares on the stock market? I have seen some peaks and some valleys this summer that make me feel like I’ve been riding a roller coaster. Maintaining focus on who I am, my business plan, and on my core clients have kept me sane.

In my April column I wrote about how opportunities come through the most unusual circumstances. I started a computer coding club with my son and have subsequently been invited to write several evaluation proposals that involve students with computer science.

 

In June I wrote about being in “the weeds," that sense that everything is unraveling and you can’t keep up with all of the demands. I slowed down the frantic pace, assessed my immediate needs, maintained my work-life balance and worked through the crazy period. As a result, several opportunities appeared, I have a second research assistant, and have developed some wonderful evaluation reports that guide my clients.

In the past week one client received denials for two different National Science Foundation (NSF) research applications, which were both rated competitive and reviewed well. I also learned of another client whose office turned in their application for a multi-million-dollar research project one minute late (literally, one minute) and it was not accepted.

On the other hand, I just started a brand new five-year evaluation with a new and exciting client, I have fielded two calls from existing clients asking for evaluation plans, I am coordinating a partnership group for another large multi-year NSF proposal, and I am developing some new opportunities in a border state based on the good work of yet another client. Since June I have seen my forecasted revenues double and then retreat and then double again, only to see them retreat again. (Currently my stock is up, but I am prepared for it to drop again.)

If there is a lesson in my newsletter articles and this essay it is that we cannot get stressed out or caught up in the drama. We have to focus on our core clients, on doing the good work that keeps these clients coming back, and move steadily forward toward the goals that we set out in our business plans. As a result, good opportunities appear in the least expected ways.

  

FAQs and what to do about them
by Gail Vallance Barrington, Barrington Research Group

Question:  How can I stay in touch with my client?
 
Answer:  The Status Report is the best client communication tool ever! It connects you to your client each month, helps you stay accountable, keeps the project fresh in the client’s mind, provides a predictable milestone, is tied to your billing schedule, and is all on one page, back-to-back. What a great package!

You’re thinking, “It sounds like a lot of work.” Well, okay, it requires discipline because you have to prepare one every month. On the other hand, its value will quickly become evident. You’ll soon look forward to it because it helps keep you organized.

Here’s what to do.

1. Set up a template

The Status Report mirrors your proposal and begins with bullet points on study purpose, evaluation questions, and project deliverables. Several brief sections follow.
 


   a) Task update
An expanded version of your task schedule with columns for 1) Task; 2) Planned Completion Date; 3) Completion Status (i.e., Not Started, In Progress, or Completed); and 4) Details (e.g., key dates, events, or achievements).

   b) Commentary
Include a couple of paragraphs on study progress: 1) recent successes; 2) emerging problems; 3) items of interest.

   c) Thank you  
Close with a comment about something memorable that month, thanks for their support and your contact information.

   d) Appendix
As the study progresses, a quick field report is a handy reference: number of interviews completed, surveys received, etc.

2. Monthly update
Updating the template only takes about an hour. Because you know it’s coming, you tend to keep your records organized. As you review the month’s activities, you are already planning what happens next.

3. Follow up phone call

Most important, you now have a reason to talk with your client. Set up a call to discuss the report and plan for upcoming activities. Because it provides an early warning system, your call can help you strategize about emerging issues.

Guaranteed, your clients will love the Status Report. It keeps them in the loop and if they get questions from their superiors, they already have the answers. When it’s time for your final report, implementation details are at your fingertips. Try it and see. What’s not to love?
 
                                                                                                                                                          Gail Vallance Barrington

Barrington, G. V. (2012). Consulting Start-up & Management: A Guide for Evaluators & Applied Researchers. Los Angeles: SAGE.
  

IC TIG survey findings - business services and development
By Tania Jarosewich, Censeo Group
This is the second installment in the IC TIG newsletter summarizing the results of the online decennial Independent Consulting TIG survey, to which 379 IC TIG members responded in October 2015, reflecting on their work in the previous 12 months. Matt Feldmann penned the first newsletter article concerning demographics and fees. Norma Martinez-Rubin and Nicole Clark will also be submitting articles in subsequent newsletters.

The vast majority (94%), although not all, of the survey respondents who responded to the question (N=303) provided program evaluation services. A little more than one-half of respondents provided program design and planning services (54%) and training and capacity building services (52%). On average, IC TIG members offered four different services to their clients.





IC TIG survey respondents most often worked with social service agencies, post-secondary educational institutions, PreK-12 school districts and government entities. On average, respondents offer services to organizations within three different service categories.

The majority of IC TIG Survey respondents’ work was within their state/province, with 65% of respondents working primarily within this geographic region. One-quarter of respondents (24%) offered services more widely, primarily within their country. Of the respondents, 22% worked outside of their country, but only 10% had work that was primarily international.

Respondents spent the greatest percentage of their time (68%) in billable client service work. Time was also spent on marketing and business development (13%) and pro bono consulting (13%). Respondents spent about one-half day per week, 10% of their time, on managing business operations and about as much time (8%) on conference and professional development.

Learn more on Friday, October 28, 2016. Co-presenters Nicole Clark, Mathew Feldmann, Norma Martinez-Rubin, and Tania Jarosewich will discuss the survey at an 8:00-9:30 am session at the 2016 conference of the American Evaluation Association.




 

IC-TIG notes and updates 
by Matt Feldmann, IC TIG Chair

We have a lot of great things going on now and planned for the American Evaluation Association annual conference in Atlanta October 24 – 29.
  • The big news is that our own Rita Fierro (TIG Chair in 2012) has been elected to the American Evaluation Association Board. Other IC-TIG members already represented on the Board are this year's President John Gargani, Dominica McBride, Donna Podems and Amie White.  We can be sure that with all of these members serving on the Board, the IC TIG's interests will be well represented. 
  • The AEA conference will have 22 Independent Consulting TIG sponsored sessions this year, which is a record! (The previous record was 21 in 2012). We also will have Gail Barrington's two pre-conference sessions dedicated to beginning and intermediate consulting skills. You can find more specifics about each of the following IC TIG sessions at the conference program site.
     
  Description  
Tues: 9:00am-4:00pm PRE-CONFERENCE:10:(10) Your Consulting Practice: Ready, Set, Go!  
Wed: 8:00am-3:00pm PRE-CONFERENCE:23:(23) Intermediate Consulting Skills: Using a Complexity Focus to Manage Your Consulting Practice  
Wed: 4:30pm-6:00pm 2083:Bumps in the Facilitation and Evaluation Design Road  
Wed: 6:15pm-7:00pm 2322:From Process Mapping to Intake Doc: Devise Customized Tools that Connect Evaluation Practice to Services Delivered  
Thurs: 11:00am-11:45am 1489:Designing Evaluations for State and Federal Program Grants  
Thurs: 11:45am-12:45pm 1705:Collaborating with Other Evaluators to Improve Evaluation Quality and Organizational Success  
Thurs: 1:00pm-1:45pm 1162:Exploring Essentials of Culturally Responsive Evaluation Design Among Independent Consultants  
Thurs: 4:45pm-6:15pm 1200:Evaluating the Evaluator: Strategies and Tools to Measure Your Firm’s Performance from the Inside Out  
Thurs: 4:45pm-6:15pm 1874:Meet the Pros: Intermediate Consulting Skill-Building Self-help Fair  
Thurs: 6:20pm-7:10pm Independent Consulting Business Meeting  
Fri: 8:00am-9:30am 2454:Independent Consulting Topical Interest Group 2015 Decennial Survey: Findings for Member Communication Strategy Design  
Fri: 11:00am-11:45am 2793:When Design Goes out the Window: Balancing Evaluation, Technical Support and Program Needs — Two Case Studies  
Fri: 1:45pm-3:15pm 1702:Designing a Successful Evaluation Consultancy Using the Book Yourself Solid System  
Fri: 3:30pm-4:15pm 1654:Evaluating Community Sustainability: Issues and Approaches  
Fri: 3:30pm-4:15pm 2581:Extreme Collaboration for Evaluation Consultants  
Fri: 4:30 pm - 5:15 pm 1202:Thinking Outside the Box: What Can We Learn from Nate Silver about Our Evaluation Practice?  
Fri: 5:30pm-6:15pm 1896:Designing Your Digital Workshop  
Fri: 5:30pm-6:15pm 2787:Evaluators! Watch Your Backs – Learn Hard Negotiation Tactics before that Job: Negotiation Skills for Program Evaluators in the Design and Implementation of Evaluations  
Sat: 7:00am-7:45am 2081:Practice by Design: Aligning Your Brand with an Avatar Client to Advance Your Independent Consulting Practice  
Sat: 9:45am-10:30am 2804:Evaluators! Watch Your Backs – Learn Hard Negotiation Tactics before that Job: Negotiation Skills for Program Evaluators in the Design and Implementation of Evaluations  
Sat: 9:45am-10:30am 2067:Surviving Long Distance Relationships: Data Collection from Afar  
Sat: 10:45am-11:30am 1216:Designing Independent Consulting Cooperatives  
Sat: 10:45am-11:30am 2852:The Story Slam: How We Partnered with Businesses, Nonprofits & Foundations and Had A Great Time  
In addition to the sessions, please plan to attend the following:
**BUSINESS MEETING: The TIG Business Meeting will be Thursday, October 27 at 6:20 p.m.
**DINNER: After the Business Meeting we will meet for dinner at a local restaurant within walking distance (0.5 – 1.5 miles from the hotel) or a very short cab ride. Keep an eye out on the AEA Community Group listserv and the Facebook site for more details
Meet Jana Sharp 
Each quarter we feature an IC TIG member in this newsletter. Send your suggestions for future interviewees to Loretta Kelley.

1. Please describe your independent consulting practice. I began working in the evaluation field in 2002 and established Sharp Insight, LLC in 2013.  We partner with mission-driven organizations that are focused on improving outcomes for children, schools and communities. Our Associates work with a range of clients and most often evaluate out-of-school time (OST) programs, HIV and/or pregnancy prevention programs and youth development initiatives. In addition to our evaluation services, we provide training on a range of topics related to evaluation and program quality. Currently, we are a team of six and are based in the Washington, DC region. 

2. What prompted you to become an independent consultant? How did you get into it? So, I’m just going to be honest:  I’m an accidental evaluator!  I began my career as a middle school Spanish teacher and, upon realizing that was not an ideal fit, I stumbled on public health. My first semester in graduate school I had the fortunate opportunity to attend a class given by a guest lecturer in the evaluation field who was looking for a part-time evaluation consultant. And so my evaluation career began! 

My leap to small business ownership was also not linear. After contemplating a career shift into nonprofit leadership (and a lot of soul searching), I realized that I loved being an external evaluator and simply needed a new challenge. With the encouragement of family and friends, I took the risk of launching my own business. And it has been a worthwhile and meaningful endeavor!
 

3. What's unique about the work you do? Because everyone reading this is probably in the evaluation field, I doubt I could say anything related to content that would be “unique.”  However, we are working really hard to define, for ourselves, what it means to be part of a healthy and connected virtual team. We all work remotely, which can be ideal for careers full of writing and data analyses. However, for those of you out there with home offices (or dining room tables/desks), you may know that virtual work can be challenging, too.  To support each other, we connect by video calls, send each other “movement breaks,” and provide professional development on topics such as “setting professional boundaries when working from home.”  Recently, we started renting shared work space so we have a regular spot for our monthly meetings and, of course, we meet in person whenever we can!

4. What do you love most about being an evaluator? I believe that it is an incredible privilege to partner with organizational leaders, to support them in defining what “success” means to them, and to work together to determine if their efforts are working in the ways they had intended.  No two organizations ever define success in the same way, so with each new project there is an opportunity for learning, creativity and collaboration.

Often our clients are incredibly busy leaders of nonprofit organizations who have so many competing priorities. I love being able to support their work from the outside-in, take on their mission as our mission, and contribute to the world one chart at a time…
 

4. How has being a member of the IC-TIG benefited you and/or your business? The first time I attended an AEA conference, I felt like I had discovered the mother ship! For years I had been doing work in the field without a network of peers. My connection to AEA, and specifically to members of the IC TIG, has provided me with professional colleagues throughout the nation, thought partners, resources and inspiration. 

6. What was your childhood dream job? When I was little, I really wanted to be an elementary school principal.  Years later, I was able to still snag the title of “Principal”… just with a slightly different meaning!  

ANNOUNCEMENTS: 
  • Next newsletter deadline: November 30, 2016 for the December issue.  Please send questions, submissions or suggestions to Loretta Kelley.
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